INTRODUCING BEN BENJAMIN [1891 - 1982] | DESIGNER & SHOEMAKER | PART 1

Women's Footwear In America is a footwear blog run by Julia Salleres. Unlike other footwear blogs, W'sFIA give us unique perspectives about the footwear industry of the last century as told by Ben Benjamin, Julia's grandfather. The man was there, in the thick of it. Crik-etts, for instance, was his creation, so was Schwartz & Benjamin. In the 50's he joined the I.Miller shoe company but not many outside the shoe industry know about Ben Benjamin, so it's time to correct this. Let's hear what Julia has to say.


1955 | I.Miller
Feat. Ben Benjamin, the master shoemaker
Source: Women's Footwear In America

Julia Salleres:

As the daughter of a shoe salesman and granddaughter of a shoemaker my love of shoes and fashion began early. Growing up there was always a copy of Footwear News on the kitchen table. My father had a home office with shelves of women’s shoes and handbags (one of a kind) and our garage was filled with shoemaker tools from my grandfather’s days in the factory.


Ben Benjamin & Julia Salleres
Source: Women's Footwear In America

Julia Salleres:

Here are the events in his life leading up to the first company Ben Benjamin helped start, Sigman And Cohen Women’s Shoe Manufacturers of Brooklyn. The quotes are from tape-recorded conversations I made when I was 12 and he would come over every Sunday for dinner. I tried to keep it as brief as possible. I’ve always been in awe of his journey from an orphan born in England to a successful American shoe manufacturer. I only knew him as a frail old man, but still with a tenacious spirit who painted into his 90’s and told his grandchildren that he knew if he learned how to make shoes he would never be hungry.


The young Ben Benjamin
Source: Women's Footwear In America

Julia Salleres:

Haunted by the tapes I made of my grandfather as a child I’ve always wanted to share his story, so I started Women's Footwear In America to try and put together the missing pieces. The answers are out there I just have to keep asking the questions. The first place I started was a box of papers I had. It was a mess of old college letters, drawings from high school, stickers, junk, but inside all of that junk there was a manila envelope with some letters and notebooks that my grandfather must have given me I had forgotten about. They were his notebooks from when he was an apprentice in England as a boy and the letters of reference that he brought with him to America.


1913 | A & W Flatau & Co. LTD.
Source: Women's Footwear In America

THE BENJAMIN TAPES

Ben Benjamin:
When I was about 8 years old my father decided to go to Belfast. Things were bad. Mother had a lot of children by that time. When I was 8 there must have been 6 or 7 kids. See? I was the oldest. There was a baby boy Harry. He died in Belfast as a baby. Then Aunt Dora was born in Belfast. We lived in Belfast almost 4 years. So I was 12 years old by the time we came back to London. My father got sick and the Dr. advised him to get to a dry climate. Northern Ireland is a very damp country. It could rain for 30, 40 days straight. That’s why it’s called the Emerald Isle. Cause its green, because it’s got so much rain.

Julia Salleres:
The doctor told his father to go to South Africa, instead the family came back to London to the East End. My grandfather’s parents died when he was a child. His mother first in childbirth at the age of 32 and 10 weeks later his father at the age of 36. They left 8 children behind and my grandfather spent his entire life trying to keep his brothers and sisters together.

Ben Benjamin:
Then we were gradually broken up. Those that could help us didn’t want to and those that wanted to couldn’t. That’s the way it went. The Jewish Board of Guardians was a charitable organization run by wealthy Jews in England. They paid for the funeral for my mother and father and later when my brother died – he was 14 in the orphan home, they paid for that, but you couldn’t put up a tombstone unless you paid that money back. After I was here in this country, first time I went back to London, after I was here 18 or 19 years, went back to pay them off. Give them the money they spent for the funeral and put tombstones up for the three of them.


Jewish Board Of Guardians | London

Ben Benjamin: 
The Jewish Board of Guardians they take boys when they’re 14 and leave school and apprentice them to a trade. So they did that with me and the first place they apprenticed me, they wanted me to go to a cabinetmakers shop where they made furniture. I didn’t like it so much because I had to get up at 5 in the morning. I lived out in the suburbs. I had to go all the way down to London to the East End of London and found it was too much and asked them to get me something else, so they put me in a shoe factory. I didn’t mind it. It was also far and awkward to get to, but there I apprenticed for 5 years. 
The second year I was supposed to go to another department, see? They didn’t want to put me there. They wanted me to stay in the department I was in cause I was doing good there, satisfying them, getting the work done properly. There were 12 apprentices, it was a big plant. I said no, I’ve got an apprenticeship. I’ve got my Indentures, which is the papers that you sign to work there for 5 years and I’m suppose to go and learn this and you wouldn’t teach me that, so I left. I found myself a job in some other factory, but they forced me back. They made me come back on the promise you live up to my agreement. Did they live up to your agreement? Yes they did.


Introducing
BEN BENJAMIN

BEN BENJAMIN
Designer & Shoemaker | Schwartz & Benjamin
PART 2


BEN BENJAMIN
Designer & Shoemaker | Crik-Etts
PART 3


BEN BENJAMIN
Designer & Shoemaker | I. Miller
PART 4



 

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